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Why hospitals still struggle to sell telehealth

Brian Eastwood | Aug. 5, 2014
Telehealth stands among the healthcare industry's few technology success stories. It brings virtual care to underserved or remote locations. It gives facilities an opportunity to export expertise or, conversely, outsource costly operations. It cuts costs for healthcare systems as well as patients.

Telehealth stands among the healthcare industry's few technology success stories. It brings virtual care to underserved or remote locations. It gives facilities an opportunity to export expertise or, conversely, outsource costly operations. It cuts costs for healthcare systems as well as patients.

For many in healthcare, though, telehealth remains a hard sell. It's an innovation in an industry that's not used to disruption. It requires technology infrastructure upgrades that carry a hefty price tag or, in the case of broadband, rely on federal action. It disrupts workflows. It raises questions about licensing and reimbursement that are hard to answer amid changing business models.

To that end, last month's mHealth and Telehealth World Congress attempted to bring some clarity to the challenge of selling telehealth.

Telehealth Buy-in All About Time, Money and Technology

Panelists in one conference session named three operational elements necessary for securing telehealth buy-in: Time, money and technology. If it takes too long, costs too much and seems too complex, it won't work.

That's where telehealth's strategic amplifiers come into play. These are many and varied expanding access for rural patients and providers, aligning with an academic mission or business strategy, increasing referrals and, of course, introducing new revenue streams. Highlighting these gains will help offset concerns (real or otherwise) about time, money and technology.

At the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the telehealth program began in the early 2000s in response to delays in rural care observed in emergency and traumas transfers to the facility the lone academic trauma center in the state. The program now covers 34 specialties and connects the state's hospitals to clinics, offices, schools and even homes, says Kristi Henderson, the medical center's chief advanced practice officer and director of telehealth.

Henderson says success depends in part on explaining telehealth's value proposition in meaningful terms to program leaders. Come to the table with a clear understanding of what you intend to monitor and evaluate as the program progresses, she says length of stay, for example, or readmission rate.

It pays to know where key stakeholders reside, says Peter Kung, director of strategic technologies for the UCLA Health System, where the UCLA Innovates HealthCare Initiative looks for ways that technology can improve access to care. Frame the telehealth discussion in terms of benefits for the system at large as well as for individual staff members. Make sure the ROI will be realized within three years or will affect at least 20 percent of a patient population, he adds.

The operational element of telehealth indeed matters, but it need not be complex. Start with the basics of videoconferencing, Henderson says, and refine the program later. "Don't paralyze yourself by trying to make it perfect."

 

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